Evil can sometimes surreptitiously insinuates into our lives and there is no place, however incongruous, however picturesque or however remote, that can escape from its pernicious reach. As swiftly as it has come, it goes, leaving behind its mark, a scar that time can certainly erode but may never fully erase, and an aura of mystery around violent events that are beyond human comprehension.
That a murder occurred on the stormy night of Saturday October 18, 1913 in the lonely Northbank cottage near Portencross, No one can doubt. However, despite extensive investigation by the police and some unfounded theory of the crime, it remains stubbornly unsolved.
When a traveller from Greenock leaves behind the coastal town of Largs and, from the A78, takes a turn right into Power Station road, he comes across the Hunterston Nuclear power plant, a site which sprawls on the shore of the Clyde. The main building, an imposing structure, is surrounded by a myriad of small, prefabricated office buildings that look more like temporary elements of an army camp readying for a siege; and it looms grimly upon the surrounding landscape that, somehow bears an aspect of desolation as far as the eye can see. The water of the river nearby look brackish and lifeless as if an unnamable curse has been put on the place or a pall or darkness had irremediably crept in. There is an oppressive sense of security as if those who attend to the dark arts of the atomic fission are jealous of their secrets.
Those impressions rushed through my mind as we drove through the plant in order to reach the starting point of a path towards Portencross village. And it was hard to conclude if what I perceived was real or if my own morose state of mind perverted the way I saw the world around me.
We parked near a concrete pier at the end of the road and the plant receded in the background like a unpleasant memory one wants to forget. A gentle breeze was blowing, as if to clear the air from nefarious thoughts.
We walked a few yards and it was like stepping into a different world where nature seemed to have reclaimed its dominion.
The shore of the Clyde was strewn with craggy black rocks of all size and shapes against which waves splashed and left behind a thin film of white foam. The sky was covered with brooding clouds and the choppy waters of the river reflected their dull color.
We started into the thin line of the path that had been beaten down by innumerable footsteps of past ramblers. It cut through a wide expense of grass that lay from the shore.
On the other side, dominated by the towering ridge, whose jagged rocks, having endured the lashing of winds and suns of thousand years, protruded from the motley of wild vegetation, I could discern a belt of trees; It was a profusion of silver birches and beeches encroaching on the slopes of the ridge and separated from the field by a wired fence. They rose irregularly among an intricate clutter of shrubs and had not yet regained their lush green foliage in spite of the approaching Spring.
Oystercatchers could be seen huddling close to the shore or flying in low formation over the expanse of grass, looking for sustenance.
As we advanced further along the track, thick bramble bushes propped up here and there, momentarily blocking the view to the river.
The Northbank cottage became visible, its white walls gleaming in the wan light, under the gloomy sky, eerily peaceful, as if the tragic events that occured more than a century ago had been wiped out, as if timed had healed the wound of this place and nature had stamped out the evil.
We proceeded further on the path until we came into sight of Portencross. There was the pier, then the few building of the small village, what would have been a fishermen’s settlement ages ago. There was the castle, a rough edifice of stone weathered by time, a remnant of a remote, violent and uncertain time, and it looked strangely out if place, a seeming dichotomy in this modern world we live in where the only violence present is the waves clashing eternally against the jagged charcoal rocks of the shore.
Utter silence reigned in the village. Not a soul stirred. The building bore signs of occupation but we encountered no one. We stepped on a single lane road, apparently the only way in and out of the village for vehicles. We walked past a courtyard where a proud rooster was pacing up and down the grounds, as if to survey his domain. The road laced through the landscape of private houses and farm fields towards West Kilbride; here and there, on one side of the road, the monotony of the scenery was broken with clumps of trees while, on the other side, fields of grass and sedge swaying rythmically under the wind separated the road from the wide sheet of the Clyde.
At length, after making a right turn and walking along a country pathway bordered with wooden fence, and past a modest white building weathered by the time, we set foot on Ardneil bay. Here, as far as the eye could see, was a vast flat expanse of sand whose moistened surface, dotted at intervals with rocks of different size, bore striations created by the eternal rising and ebbing of the tide.